I believe many of us are born to be or do something in particular. The trick, of course, is finding your passion and giving yourself to it fully, without reservation. Sadly, most people fail at this quest, often dismissing it as Quixotic. I’m one of the lucky ones: I found my passion early in life.
With humble means but a rich and fortunate upbringing, I grew up on the Caribbean island of Trinidad (aye mon). I began swimming at the age of seven although apparently pestered my parents for three prior years before they acknowledged that I had, indeed, chosen the road my life would take. Giving in, they took me down to the local Y and signed me up for the swim team.
From then on there was no stopping me. My passion for swimming—and the life it gave me – continued to blossom. I never missed workouts; I ate-up the training dished out and begged for more. By the age of 10, I had set lofty goals for myself. My tenth year was 1972 – the year of the Munich Olympics and Mark Spitz’s incredible seven gold medal performances. I remember those Games with near-perfect clarity as I would secretly set my alarm for 3 a.m. to listen to the swimming competition on radio. As I listened to the sportscaster describing each gold medal Spitz won in world record time, I imagined one day that I, too, would strike Olympic gold and stand proudly on the victory stand as my island nation’s national anthem was played for all the world to hear.
Well, despite numerous fairy tales to the contrary, wishing doesn’t always make things so. I never fulfilled the Olympic dream I shared with millions of other kids. I never won an Olympic medal of any color. In fact, I never even made an Olympic team. Yet who could have predicted that 20 years later, that same skinny, ambitious kid from a tiny, Third World country would end up coaching Mark Spitz at UCLA?
During that year, 1972, our coach started us training in open water three to four days a week, three months a year, in preparation for the island’s annual 4,000 meter open water race. It was then that I knew for certain that I’d be swimming for a lifetime. Over the years, I won that race multiple times, together with another hundred or so other open water victories.
My earnest swimming rewarded me with an athletic scholarship to Pepperdine University, participation on numerous Trinidad national teams, trips to scores of countries, some Masters national titles, a few world Masters titles, some national and world Masters records, a 28.5 mile swim around Manhattan Island, and many friends throughout the world. It has been a very rich experience indeed.
BECOMING A COACH…..
In the early 1980’s, while finishing college at Pepperdine, I started coaching kids and some triathletes for the Kona Ironman and shorter races. That’s when my coaching career began officially.
A group of like-minded friends and I got together and collectively created one of the first triathlon clubs in Los Angeles: Team Malibu. That led to my organizing the Malibu Masters Swim Club thereafter.
Meanwhile, I continued swimming with the Palisades Masters under an extraordinary coach, Rick Goeden. That’s where I was given the nickname “Mambo Gerry” by Baywatch creator, Greg Bonann (due to my then heavy Caribbean accent).
Opportunities kept proliferating. Around 1990, the Sports Club LA contracted me to start its first Masters club. A few years later, my brother Brendan and I managed another Masters club, the Southern California Masters Aquatics (SCAQ). We succeeded in super-sizing it. Then I helped resurrect a South Bay club while waiting to start UCLA Masters swim program in 1995, followed by the UCLA kids program in 2005.
During those formative years I was able to assist many adult athletes in achieving hundreds of top 10 national ranking, scores of national championship titles, many world champions with national and world records. I even helped mentor and coach a few younger athletes to Olympic gold medals and world championship titles.
Official beach workouts were started by me at Will Rogers in 1990, and then moved to Manhattan Beach in 1992. The 8 am Sunday morning, south-of-the-pier group continues on today.
In 2009, I added coached TOWER 26 beach workouts for triathletes and open water swimmers. These Wednesday, summer morning, pre-dawn session typically draw between 100-300 participants. At the same time, I offered pool-specific swim training for a small but committed group of elite and professional triathletes from the Trifit Club. Tower 26 pool workout started in 2010.
Professionally, I was honored as “US Masters Co-coach of the Year.” The distinction of being named Southern Pacific Co-coach of the Year was later shared with my former Palisades coach, Rick Goeden, a superb maestro with an uncanny ability to motivate. I went on to own SWIM Magazine, and publish Swimming World and Swimming Technique magazines, while launching what quickly became the world’s busiest swim content website: swiminfo.com in 1995. I also directed or hosted some 35 pool and open water events, and, with Mike Collins, developed and produced the first open water swimming DVD.
MY COACHING PHILOSOPHY…
Although my coaching philosophy has evolved over a quarter century of experience, there remain several core principles and values that have guided me since Year One and, I expect, always will do so:
- 1. There are no shortcuts;
2. There are no secrets;
3. You have to show-up consistently; with a positive attitude;
4. You must believe in yourself;
5. You must have a goal;
6. You must be patient; and
7. You must apply yourself diligently in mind, body and spirit.
For his or her part, the coach must be prepared, and have a well laid-out plan. Training sessions need be specific and meaningful; and they must have an absolute and direct purpose with an end result in mind. A mechanism to measure or quantify return or improvement must be in place. Finally, the coach should allow the swimmers to learn from other coaches: no coach has a monopoly on technique, training or motivation.
I believe that recreational swimming enthusiasts, Masters swimmers and triathletes can all be successful in an ambitious training environment – a structured atmosphere that accommodates both the serious competitor and the casual participant who just wants a workout. A less ambitious format only caters to the lowest common denominator. My motto is simple: You may not be training to be the best athlete in the world or even compete in an event, but you will end up being the best athlete you can be.
As I stumbled through my athletic training years, loving the training and energy derived, an inquisitive appetite for knowledge emerged. That coupled with self testing and astute coaching observations guided me to constant tinkering. I quickly learned the one-size-fits-all coaching style simply does not work—at least for me. Rather, a quest to constantly search for each individual’s strength, then letting him or her run with it while shoring up weaknesses is far more successful.
After nearly thirty years of coaching, I have matured. I now view myself as a carpenter with a very large box of tools (my experience), knowing which tool (swimming drill or workout) to utilize for a specific task, while recognizing any particular tool may have a very different impact on each project (individuals).
Fortunately, I found my calling early. My mission is to help athletes and wannabe-athletes believe they can achieve success beyond their wildest dream, while helping them execute it. My thousands of training miles swum in pools and open water, the self-taught tactics of open water racing, coupled with my years of coaching, have made me an excellent teacher for swimmers and triathletes at virtually every level. I wish to help you!
Welcome to TOWER 26! We will make you a better and faster swimmer!